A curious affair, this.
Picture quality is fairly poor (the
NTSC format?), on the verge of being
blurred. Playing time is under an hour
(although it seems more). Neither Alfredo
Kraus (who, with the lion’s share of
the solo items, is the ‘star’ of the
evening) nor a rather diva-ish Renata
Scotto are in the first flush of youth
... and it does show. The Slovak Philharmonic
is the dutiful accompanist, and that
is what it sounds like, accompaniments
routinely drilled out under Konrad Leitner
(a name almost new to me – he’s appeared
on Naxos, again as operatic accompanist).
The audience is appreciative, though,
which does help to lend the whole a
sense of occasion.
The first item comes
from Linda di Chamounix – by
Donizetti, not Verdi as the back cover
of the DVD claims. An interesting choice.
The recorded sound is on the recessed
side though, and too much facial close-up
is off-putting. But Melanie Holliday
can do the various manouevres well (nice
even scales up into the higher reaches),
even if she does shriek out the top
note of the cadenza.
Alfredo Kraus makes
a grand entrance – in slow-motion!.
He proves, in Leoncavallo’s Mattinata,
that he still has a hefty upper register
(he was born in 1927); his next ‘number’,
by Tosti (L’alba separa dalla luce
l’ombra) is clearly a labour of
love, and it is obvious he simply adores
the words. He seems to know this is
appropriate repertoire for him now,
as he sticks mainly to songs and, indeed,
he cuts a suave Core ’ngrato
(finishing on a powerful high note).
His ‘La donna è mobile’ proves
he can float notes as well as the next
man; the hyper-Romantic Falvo brings
the likes of Tito Schipa to mind (and,
by the way, its Lehár-like tendencies
form the perfect preamble to Renata
Scotto’s Merry Widow excerpt).
Scotto’s Lehár is, alas, hopelessly
affected in gesture when the orchestra
has the tune, one time video is definitely
not an advantage (and her eyes are glued
to the music when she sings!). A definite
miscalculation that culminates in a
totally inappropriate and crass crescendo
on the final note.
The excerpt from Verdi’s
Macbeth is taken by the baritone
Paolo Coni, whose discography includes
Rodrigo on the Muti/La Scala Don
Carlo. Coni displays a firm sense
of line and his cadenza is impressive.
is no small name, and his good reputation
is confirmed here. ‘Una furtiva lagrima’
(‘lacrima’ on the back cover) is one
of the best-loved of all operatic tenor
excerpts, and Vargas does not disappoint.
His pitching and legato are both superb
servants to his touching espressivo.
His other solo, Rossini’s La danza,
is a catchy, contrasting tarantella
napolitana that he despatches with real
Gail Gilmore is a real
performer. To watch her eyes in ‘O don
fatale’ is worth the price of the DVD
alone. Her low register is strong, her
high notes firm, the enthusiastic ovation
thoroughly deserved. Her name is new
to me and I shall be watching out for
As is the case with
such occasions, an ensemble finale provides
the ‘climax’, here the Brindisi from
Traviata. Everybody enters into
the spirit of the thing (the audience
even claps along) and it probably worked
wonderfully if you were there at the
time. The audience shot to its feet
at the end.
A very, very mixed
bag, then. Neither is it clear exactly
who this is aimed at, given the mix
of young(er) and old singers. Interesting
as a curiosity but really, I would suggest,
only for fervent Kraus-fans.